Healthcare News & Insights

4 ways to keep staffing shortages from threatening health IT projects

With rising adoption rates for electronic health records and other technology, health IT pros are in high demand. That’s great for people with skills and experience in health tech, but hospitals and providers have a problem: There aren’t many qualified applicants for health IT jobs out there. 

Demand for health IT pros first spiked in 2009 when the HITECH Act was passed, and it’s only increased since then, according to a recent report from the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).

Among the 163 health IT execs surveyed, 67% said they’re experiencing a shortage of health IT talent — up from 59% who said the same in 2010. Most organizations (97%) currently have IT jobs open, with the majority saying fewer than 10% of the positions in their IT department are currently vacant.

As many organizations are adopting new health IT systems, that was the biggest area of need in IT staffing, with 74% of organizations in need of clinical software implementation and support staff. Employers also need infrastructure staff (47%) and business software implementation and support staff (45%).

The staffing shortage is creating some challenges for healthcare organizations — for example, 59% are concerned that a staffing shortage in the IT department could keep them from qualifying for federal incentives for meaningful use of EHRs. In addition, 71% said a shortage could jeopardize a current or planned IT project.

Organizations are also worried their current IT employees could leave for other employers, with 85% of respondents saying they’re concerned about retaining IT staff.

How to conquer the health IT staffing shortage

Unfortunately, most organizations won’t have a lot of funds available to dump into their recruiting programs. A third of organizations expect their overall IT budgets to stay flat next year, with another 33% predicting an increase of 4% or less. And while 52% plan to allocate more money to IT staffing, 86% say the increase will be smaller than 10%.

However, organizations will need to take some steps to improve their recruiting and retention so they can avoid losing top talent to the competition. Here are some steps to take that don’t involve huge budget increases:

1. Hire third-party consultants

The biggest reason organizations need additional health IT staff now is to help with new system installations, and many providers have had luck getting temporary help from third-parties. Hiring third-party consultants was the most popular strategy for dealing with staffing shortages among the CHIME survey respondents, cited by 28% of organizations.

2. Train current staff

If it’s tough to hire new employees with health IT skills, the organization may be better off training some of its current employees. In fact, 20% of the organizations surveyed by CHIME plan to offer health IT training and hire from within. Helping staff gain new skills can not only solve staffing problems, but it’s also a good benefit to offer employees and can help with retention.

3. Increase low-cost benefits

Given the importance of retention as well as recruiting, organizations are also putting more effort into keeping their current employees, especially in ways that don’t require too much of a budget increase. That includes offering low- or no-cost benefits, such as flexible schedules, telecommuting and recognition programs.

4. Hire right the first time

When qualified staff members are hard to find, it becomes even more critical to choose the best candidates the first time around. Otherwise, a lot of time and money will be wasted and it will give top talent a chance to find jobs with the competition. What are the most important qualities in a health IT hire? Survey respondents emphasized practical, hands-on experience, especially with the systems the organization uses or plans to use, and the ability to interact with end users.

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